Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer Explained as Woman Diagnosed Thanks to Small Navel Growth

A woman is raising awareness of ovarian cancer and how difficult it can be to detect, having been diagnosed with the illness by a dermatologist who removed a small growth from her navel.

Despite being aware of the symptoms to look out for, Kari Neumayer only found out that she had ovarian cancer when it was already at an advanced stage.

Writing about her experience on HuffPost, Neumayer explained how a growth "the size and color of a pencil eraser" protruding from her navel led to her diagnosis.

Her dermatologist initially thought it was harmless, but a subsequent blood test found elevated levels of a protein called CA-125 in her system, which can indicate the presence of a tumor.

A CT scan soon after discovered tumors "the size of small citrus fruit" in each of her ovaries, and a third tumor "the size of a larger citrus fruit" in her abdomen.

She was initially treated with chemotherapy, but when that didn't work, her ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, omentum and cervix were surgically removed, along with 10 inches of her colon, which had been pierced by one of the ovarian tumors.

Neumayer said the growth inside her navel was, at the time, the only symptom of ovarian cancer that she thought she had.

However, she later realized that she had experienced "excruciating back pain" six months before her diagnosis, which she had attributed to lifting her 85-pound dog, and "intermittent sharp chest pains in recent years," which she had explained away as heartburn.

In hindsight, she says, these may have been early symptoms of her illness.

"I knew what to look for, but I missed the signs," she wrote.

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is extremely difficult to detect in its early stages, because many of its symptoms can also be caused by other, less serious conditions.

As such, many women who seek medical advice for suspected ovarian cancer can be misdiagnosed.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) lists bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, a suppressed appetite, and needing to go to the toilet more often as the most common symptoms of abdominal cancer.

Other symptoms include fatigue, back pain, constipation, an upset stomach, abdominal swelling with weight loss, pain during sex, and changes in menstrual flow.

Because many of these symptoms align with other conditions, only around 20 percent of ovarian cancers are found at an early stage.

There are effective screening tests for some other forms of cancer, such as a mammogram for breast cancer and a Pap test for cervical cancer, but as of yet no such test exists for ovarian cancer.

Furthermore, two of the most common tests used for ovarian cancer screening are limited in their effectiveness.

A transvaginal ultrasound can scan for a tumor, but cannot detect whether it is cancerous or benign. And the CA-125 blood test is unreliable because high levels of CA-125 can also be caused by common conditions like endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease, and ovarian cancer doesn't always correlate with elevated CA-125 levels.

According to estimates by the ACS, 13,770 women will die from ovarian cancer in the U.S. in 2021, and 21,410 women will be diagnosed with the disease.

Women have a one in 78 chance of getting ovarian cancer in their lifetime, and a one in 108 chance of dying from it.

A woman speaking to a doctor
Ovarian cancer can be extremely difficult to detect in its early stages, as many of its symptoms are consistent with a range of different conditions. Chinnapong/iStock